BLOOMINGTON (FarmWeekNow) — Soil moisture levels and crop conditions improved significantly the past six weeks.
But that pattern could shift as hot and dry conditions are projected to envelope much of the Corn Belt, including Illinois, for at least the next week.
High temperatures could fire up well into the 90s with heat index readings into the triple-digits, based on the forecast as of press time.
If realized, the hot and dry weather will slow drought improvement, according to Trent Ford, state climatologist with the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS).
But, the situation is still much improved since the end of June as crop condition ratings climbed to a season high of 70% good to excellent for soybeans and 64% good to excellent for corn in Illinois as of Aug. 14.
“We’re thankful for the rain we had here since mid-June to early July,” Scott Beck, president of Beck’s Hybrids, told the RFD Radio Network during a field day in El Paso. “It’s really starting to make the crops look a lot better.”
Illinois above normal for precipitation, soil moisture increases
In fact, Illinois received an average of 3.59 inches of rain from Aug. 1-15, which was 1.68 inches above normal, according to Jennie Atkins, Water and Atmospheric Resources Monitoring program manager at ISWS.
Soil moisture levels at 4 inches increased an average of 52% during that recent two-week stretch. The largest increases were in central Illinois, where moisture levels jumped as much as 80%. Some locations in that region received more than 6 inches of rain the first half of August, according to ISWS.
“August has been wet for most of the state, which has caused soil moisture levels to rise,” Atkins noted.
Statewide, topsoil moisture was rated 66% adequate, 18% surplus and 16% short to very short as of Aug. 14, the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office reported.
“I think the crops look amazing for what all they’ve been through,” Doug Clouser, Beck’s product lead, told RFD. “We’ve had smoke from Canada, really dry conditions for a lot of folks, some have been too wet and there’s been a little of everything in between.”
Genetics, management strategies helpful in crops withstanding extreme heat and other weather extremes
Beck and Clouser believe improved genetics and management strategies helped much of the crops withstand this season’s weather extremes.
Nearly three-quarters of the corn crop (71%) was in the dough stage and 20% was dented as of Aug. 14, both in line with the average pace statewide. Meanwhile, 95% of soybeans were blooming and 80% were setting pods in Illinois as of the same date, both slightly ahead of the average pace.
“Everyone is commenting about how the corn and soybean crops seem to handle stresses better than they used to,” Clouser said. “I think there’s a lot of resilience now, and it just keeps getting better.
“As long as we keep getting rains, I think there’s still plenty of opportunities to pump in some yield (for soybeans) and test weight (for corn).”
Prior to the recent heat wave, ratings on the U.S. Drought Monitor improved in Illinois to nearly 28% drought-free. Much of the rest of the state was rated abnormally dry, a downgrade from previous drought levels.
However, all or parts of 24 counties were still in moderate drought as of the Aug. 17 Drought Monitor, including two small patches of severe drought in the northern tip of Boone and McHenry counties and on the western edge of Adams and Pike counties.
“Much of Illinois, except the northern region, saw continued improvement with improving streamflow and soil moisture,” the latest Drought Monitor noted as of Aug. 17.
But that improvement could take a step back, depending on how the heat dome sets up.
Dan grew up on a family farm near Roseville, Warren County. He received a degree in journalism from Western Illinois University. He has been working as a journalist since 1991 and has been at FarmWeek since 2005. One way Dan discovers what is important to an Illinois farmer is by simply talking to them at events. He also keeps track of what’s trending on social media. Dan likes to let farmers tell their story and put a face to agriculture when he isn’t covering the markets.